Digital Directive

EU copyright vote due

A European Parliament Committee is expected to vote this week on key legislation outlining which protections copyrighted works produced in digital formats will enjoy under European law.

The controversial measure has been moving through the European Unions legislative process for three years. The parliaments legal affairs committee will consider the measure Monday, and is expected to vote on Tuesday. The full parliament will consider it in mid-February.

The proposed directive would implement two international treaties that will extend copyright protection to the digital world, and aims to harmonize copyright laws across the EUs 15 member states. But it has pitted copyright holders such as artists and producers of music against several other sectors affected by the legislation, including consumer groups and electronics manufacturers.

Similar to a U.S. law passed in 1998, the measure would ban, for commercial purposes, devices that can circumvent technology such as encryption that is used to protect copyrighted works on the Internet and in other digital formats.

The measure has been heavily lobbied, attracting nearly 200 amendments by members of the legal affairs committee. Legal experts said the EUs measure is being closely watched because other countries often follow Europes lead on such issues. Music and movie companies are trying to tighten up exceptions for private copying in the legislation.

While U.S. law allows for "fair use" of copyrighted works, most EU states instead provide various exceptions to copyright laws, such as copying for personal use or use by educational institutions. Consumer groups and others managed to get many of those exceptions into the latest version of the directive, which was approved by member state ministers last year. In addition, member states would be allowed take steps to ensure those exceptions can be exercised.

"I think the original proposal was certainly tilted toward copyright owners and has become more balanced" with the addition of the exceptions, said Bernt Hugenholtz, a law professor at the University of Amsterdam in Netherlands.

But copyright holders argued that these exceptions would allow users to give copies to their friends, and said that allowing member states to intervene means copyright holders could end up having to comply with 15 different laws.

"We want to make it clear that [the personal copying exception] needs to be narrowly limited to just personal use," said Christopher Marcich, senior vice president and managing director at the Motion Picture Associations European office.

Consumer groups said the measure includes checks and balances to guard against abuse, such as a provision requiring "fair compensation" for private copies. They worry about a cryptic provision in the directive that they said could be interpreted to mean that the exceptions do not apply to the Internet, according to Michael Hart, a London-based lawyer representing consumer groups and consumer electronics makers.

Computer makers and others said they hope the directive will prompt member states to limit efforts to impose special levies on personal computers and other technologies. Such taxes would compensate copyright holders for future copies that may be made on such products.